By Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary, For The Mail On Sunday 22:54 21 Aug 2021, updated 22:58 21 Aug 2021
For everyone involved, the last few months have been an exhausting, worrying and demanding time.
The unedifying exit of the West from Afghanistan will have consequences for us all for years to come.
As Defence Secretary I have been incredibly proud of the work done by my civil servants and military personnel.
From before the collapse of the Afghan government to the present, four Ministry of Defence civil servants alone have handled the process and faced thousands of fearful Afghans.
They did so often at risk to themselves. Alongside them a small band of 150 military secured their part of the airport.
We are able to do what we are doing today because of them and because of the immense effort and support of our closest allies, the United States.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says he is ‘incredibly proud of the work done by my civil servants and military personnel’
Our force has now grown to over 1,000 troops, Home Office border officials and embassy staff.
The US has surged to close to 6,000 military personnel. Only last week, as the crisis deepened, I had departmental civil servants volunteering to deploy.
The Parachute Regiment at the airport are dealing with unimaginable challenges. Public order, overcrowding, searing heat and desperate people. Soldiers trained for war are instead holding babies and co-ordinating crowds.
Despite all this we are getting people out – more than 1,000 in the past 24 hours alone.
But be under no illusion, as one problem is solved a new one appears. At first we worried whether the airport would remain open, then if those coming to Britain would able to get to the airport. Next came overcrowding.
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One by one, our commanders, Brigadier Dan Blanchard and Vice Admiral Ben Key, removed the problems.
Today’s problem is different. Too many people in the airport has meant a suspension of access. I am confident that, too, will be fixed or mitigated, but until it is the crowds will get bigger.
And ticking along, impossible to stop, is time. I have said all along that no nation will be able to get everyone out.
It is a source of deep sadness for many of us across Nato, and no one wanted 20 years of sacrifice to end this way. We will do our best to the very last moment.
But it isn’t the end. The Home Secretary and I have been planning the next stage.
Firstly, it is important to note that the scheme is not time- limited. We shall stand by our obligations and are investigating now how to process people from third countries and refugee camps.
As far back as April, we relocated an Afghan family from a Greek refugee camp. People must not despair.
As I write, we are exploring ways to keep a presence in the country after the military are gone. There is much work to do to ensure conditions are right.